National studies suggest that the more degree holders there are in a state, the higher the state’s per capita income. U.S. Census Bureau data for 2005 shows that 22.4 percent of Oklahoma’s population 25 years or older have at least a bachelor’s degree, ranking Oklahoma 42nd in the nation, an improvement from our 2000 ranking of 47th, with 20.3 percent. Accordingly, Oklahoma’s per capita income, adjusted for inflation, is $20,709, which is nearly $4,000 below the national average.
Although the state has seen slight improvements in the above categories, the prospects for the future look brighter (graph 5A). Six-year graduation rates within the state for first-time, full-time freshmen at the state’s research universities increased from 54.7 percent in 1999-2000 to 62.8 percent in 2004-05. At the regional universities, the six-year graduation rate increased from 35.7 percent to 40.1 percent. The three-year graduation rates at the state’s community colleges decreased slightly from 19.5 to 18.9 during the same period. Graduation rates vary by type of institution due to selectivity and mission. Community colleges have the lowest rates primarily due to open admissions policies and to students working more when the economy is robust.
Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities have recently made significant progress in producing more college graduates. Between 2001 and 2005, nearly 3,900 more students graduated from one of Oklahoma’s public institutions with either an associate or bachelor’s degree (graph 5B). This increase may be due in part to the State Regents’ Brain Gain initiative, which was launched in 1999. As part of this initiative, the State Regents reward institutions with performance funding for their efforts to increase retention rates on their campuses and graduate more students.
Regardless of the gains Oklahoma higher education institutions have made in producing more college graduates, still more work is needed to narrow the gap that exists between the nation and Oklahoma.